The Los Angeles Unified School District’s plan to tear down most of the historic Ambassador Hotel and build schools on the site has run into new resistance, this time from advocates who say the hotel’s walls could hold clues about the 1968 assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
A lawyer for Sirhan Sirhan, who shot Sen. Kennedy in the hotel’s pantry just after the senator won the state’s Democratic presidential primary, says that new forensics tests could exonerate his client. Mr. Sirhan is serving a life sentence for the murder.
Skeptics have theorized that Mr. Sirhan was set up, that there was more than one shooter, and that authorities destroyed crucial evidence.
Lawrence Teeter, Mr. Sirhan’s Los Angeles-based lawyer, filed a petition in Los Angeles Superior Court late last year to prevent the district from demolishing the hotel. That work was set to begin later this year.
Mr. Teeter said in an interview that he wants the LAUSD school board to commission acoustics tests, using any remaining structural elements, to try to determine the number and position of shots fired in the pantry. He said the district has denied him access to the building.
The Assassination Archives and Research Center, a private organization based in Washington, joined the petition because of potential historical ramifications, said its president, James Lesar. “I hope the court would realize there are questions not only of individual justice, but more importantly, there are unresolved questions as to whether there was a conspiracy to assassinate Senator Kennedy,” he said.
LAUSD officials said last week they were unable to comment on the pending case.
The school board approved a plan last October to tear down most of the structure, but reuse a coffee shop, nightclub, and ballroom ceiling. The board is assembling a committee to decide whether to preserve the pantry area.
Kennedy family members have supported the district’s plans and have called for demolishing the pantry.(“L.A. Board Votes to Raze Historic Building,” Oct. 20, 2004.)
The three schools that would be built on the plot of land are scheduled to open in 2008, but could be delayed because of Mr. Teeter’s petition, as well as other lawsuits that have been filed by historic-preservation groups.